Sew a Pleated Pillowcase

I’ve had this big cylindrical pillow from Ikea for forever. It’s like this one, but longer. It’s been sitting atop our bed for years, and my husband has been begging me to make a cover for it because he thinks it looks like a feminine hygiene product. He calls it “Thigh Mega Tampon”. How collegiate sounding.  But I love the pillow- it’s a great reading companion, be it under my knees or under my shoulders, it brings me comfort. Hence, it stays, tampon resembling or not.

So, I finally deemed it a priority on Sunday and I made a cover. I’ll show you how I did it, and you can use these principles to cover a similarly shaped pillow (bolster pillow, lumbar support pillow, etc) of any size. This is a photo dense tutorial, but, fear not, it’s not that difficult.

Gather your supplies. I used some cotton twill I had on hand and some medium weight cotton for the ends. I used a 22″ invisible zipper I had kicking around. Use whatever size you think suitable for your size pillow – you need to be able to slide the pillow in and out of the case fairly easily. It doesn’t have to be an invisible zipper, they are just insanely easy to put in if you have an invisible zipper foot (not expensive, go buy one).

Measure the diameter of the end of the pillow, then the length. Also important (but not shown here) measure the gall-dang circumference of the thing.
Mine was:
end diameter = 9.75″
length = 31″
circumference = 31.5″
Now, I wanted to add a fancy 4″ pleated strip down the center, so I knocked 4″ off the circumference length to account for that.
circumference = 27.5″
Important! Don’t cut yet. Remember we need to add our seam allowances. I will use .5 inch (4/8″) so that means that I have to add .5″ on every end where there will be a seam. 
except on the end circle pieces – the diameter will only increase by a total of .5″ because it’s really only one edge (where does it begin? Where does it end? It doesn’t matter).
Final measurements:
end diameter circle with seam allowance = 10.25″
length with seam allowance = 32″ (two edges = 1″ total added to the length)
circumference length with seam allowances (remember we are putting in a strip down the middle, which will add two MORE seam allowances) = 29.5″ (adding two inches total to the length)
For the center 4″ strip, knowing my length was 32″ total, I cut:

three 8×5″ strips of the main fabric
two 12×5″ strips of the accent/end fabric
Why 12×5″ you say? Well, 3 times 8″ is 24″ of the main fabric.  That means I need 8 inches more to make the needed 32″. However, I want to pleat that last 8″ and divide it into two sections.  I decided on 1/4″ pleats (pin tucks, actually) which really use up 1/2″ for every tuck.  To make a long story a little shorter, I tripled the length so that the finished length would end up at around 4″ per piece. So, once the tucks are sewn in, the two 12×5″ pieces will actually be only 4×5″. Clear as mud?
Oh golly, don’t run for the hills yet. It’s just a little bit of math. Just do as I say and it’ll make sense to you as you go along.  That’s the hope. 

I grabbed some wrapping paper and used it to make a pattern for the end pieces. I just happened to have a frying pan that was 10.25″ in diameter. Lucky!!  
Before cutting your fabric, straighten out the edges by snipping and tearing. Some fabrics don’t tear well, so it’s best to snip and gently pull a thread. The thread will leave a line that you can cut along (see above), and then you will have a perfectly straight edge.  Hooray!

Cut out all of your pieces to the correct sizes. 
For the pleats/tucks we are going to construct a simple time saving device from good ol’ medium weight paper (like poster board or even lighter). It has to be thick enough to hold it’s shape, but not so thick you can’t iron effectively through it and get a strong crease. 

I measured out a piece that was as wide as my strip, 5″. The length is only important in that it should reach as far as you want it to go. I went with 11″.
Pencil mark every 1/2″ on the paper and fold and crease it like an accordion. Pin it to the back side of the fabric you want to crease and stretch it out. Don’t pin it right at the edge, give it a 1/2″ for the seam. You won’t want a tuck there. 
As you fold the paper, make sure the fabric is tightly tucked into each fold. Iron as you go. Pull the paper out and you are ready to sew the tucks. 

Notice that as I pull together a tuck on each fold, I’m actually pinching a whole inch of fabric – 1/2″ on each side.  Pinch together then place down under your presser foot, as shown. You want to sew about a 1/4″ seam allowance (usually the edge of the presser foot is close to that, but not quite to the edge is more accurate). At this point, it’s not a deal breaker. If it’s easier to use the presser foot as a visual guide as in the photo above, do that. Try to keep your lines straight. 

Do that for each fold, leaving enough of a seam allowance on each end of the piece. Iron the tucks whatever direction you think they look best, then pin the piece to the other center sections and sew together, taking a 4/8″ seam.
It’s zipper time. 
Take your main fabric and fold the circumference length in half. Cut so that you have two equal pieces. Don’t cut along the fold, rather snip and pull a thread as outlined a few photos back. You get a nice straight line.
Iron a 1/2″ down on the two edges that you just cut. This is preparing the way for an easy zipper installation. 

Place the zipper so that the pull tab starts at about 2″ from the top (unfolded) edge and pin where the BOTTOM of the zipper ends. Sew from the bottom of the fabric, along the fold line you made, all the way up to where you marked where the zipper ends. See above. Back stitch a few times to make it secure. 
Behold, the glorious zipper foot. Put that sucker on your machine. Pin the opened zipper, TEETH SIDE DOWN, making sure it (where the teeth start) is about 2″ from the top. Some recommend to iron the zipper teeth open a bit before starting (roll it back from the zipper tape a bit and iron) but remember your zipper is plastic, so be careful. I did not do it for this project – ahem, I totally forgot that was a thing. In fact, I’m probably not using the zipper foot to it’s full advantage, but you can google it and see how others use it, if you like. 

Arrange it so that your needle is sandwiched between the zipper teeth (as snug as possible without actually penetrating the teeth) and the invisible zipper foot.  As you sew down the length of the zipper, keep it in line with the fold in the fabric that you ironed there earlier.  Once you get to that pesky how-in-the-heck-do-you-sew-around-it zipper pull tab, stop sewing, lift your presser foot and gently zip the zipper closed without moving the fabric away from the stitch line (just do the best you can). Realign your zipper flush against the fold, put your presser foot back down and continue sewing.  Do the same for the other side. I like to start from the bottom for the second side to make sure there are no puckers in how the zipper is aligned in the fabric. 

Now, sew the seam just above the top of the zipper pull tab.  Give the whole zipper seam an nice press. You just put in a zipper. Way to go! Stand back and admire your work for a moment. Heck, instagram that sucker. 

Sew in your center strip, remember to put right sides together and take a 1/2″ (4/8″) seam. Before you sew the final two sides together, take a moment to check it around your pillow to make sure it’ll fit.

Pin the ends in. At first it’ll look like there is just no way on earth that the circle will fit properly in the opening, but take the time to pin in every few inches around the circle opening. Your pillow case should be inside out at this point, and pin right sides of the fabric together. Sew.

Clip the curves as shown above, then turn the pillowcase right side out. Stuff that big ol’ tampon-shaped pillow in the case, zip up, and squeal with glee.  Now go make some tea, snuggle against your masterpiece and read a good book.

I’m only squealing, really, because this project was a loooong time coming for me. It just feels so good to finally get it done.

I bet you have projects hanging over your head, too. Tell me about them in the comments.

If you have any questions about this tutorial, I’d be happy to answer.

More about Julie Prescesky

Julie spends much of her time paying attention to what's happening around her. At Design Inkarnation, she's head designer, illustrator, writer and creative problem solver.

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